Alzheimer’s Disease in the United States

A leading cause of brain disease in the United States is Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Named after Dr. Alzheimer who published a paper in 1907 describing the cognitive and functional decline of a female patient, this disease now affects nearly 5 million people. It is estimated that those affected by AD will triple by 2050.

AD is the leading cause of progressive dementia. The disease typically erodes memory, spatial functions, language, personality and functional ability. The course of the disease approximates 10-12 years and those over the age of 85 are most at risk. Additional risk factors include female gender, family history of dementia, mood disorder, diabetes, and stroke. The cause is not known and there are no known cures or prevention.

Treatments exist to help reduce the impact of particular symptoms and early detection has advanced significantly. New treatments are being researched and these should be to market in the near future. Lifestyle for brain health has also generated new attention and interest. One aspect of a brain health lifestyle is mental stimulation, a primary function of FitBrains.

If your loved one is experiencing memory loss and there is some concern about this change it is advised that he or she receive a comprehensive dementia examination. This will help to discern if the memory and other cognitive changes fall outside the range of normal and if dementia is present. Early detection is important because existing treatments can be started.

The Pedometer and Brain Health

walking and Brain health

One of the five major factors in Dr. Nussbaum’s Brain Health Lifestyle is physical activity. Research has demonstrated a relationship between walking daily and aerobic exercise three times a week and reduction in the risk of dementia. This stems in large part to the fact that every heart beat distributes 25% of the blood output and nutrition directly to the brain!

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, 2007, 298) found the use of a pedometer is associated with significant increases in physical activity and significant decreases in body mass index and blood pressure. We know that blood pressure; particularly hypertension and obesity are two risk factors for dementia.

Perhaps you can begin your New Year with a couple simple resolutions:

  1. Increase your daily physical activity through daily walks and, or aerobic exercise three times weekly.
  2. Purchase a pedometer for yourself and for two loved ones in your life circle. This little, inexpensive tool will remind you to walk and give you immediate feedback on your daily steps. 10,000 steps daily is a good number to live by.

You are on your way to better brain health through increased physical activity.

Your Fatty Brain

As part of our ongoing discussion on brain fitness (e.g. brain games) and health lifestyle I have proposed, it is now time to consider the fattiest part of you……your brain.

Your brain, the most miraculous system ever designed in the history of the universe, weighs between two and four pounds and is made up of 60% fat. As a system of your body, it is indeed your fattiest. It is important to understand the role of the fat and how you may keep the fat nice and robust.

One role for the fat in your brain is to insulate neural tracks of cells to propel the electrical impulse carrying information in a rapid way. Without the fat, the brain cells are not insulated and information processing will slow. Many of us complain about how slow our computer is; imagine how tough it must be to suffer a slowing of our own information processing speed.

Research suggests Omega 3 fatty acids are a good source to build or maintain the healthy fat in our system and brain. Indeed, research suggests consumption of Omega 3s can help to fight off dementia. Foods rich in Omega 3s include fish such as salmon, herring, tuna, and sardines. Unsalted nuts such as walnuts are also rich in Omega 3s. It is suggested that we increase our fish intake to several ounces several times a week.

Another important brain boosting food includes fruits and vegetables because they are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants help to rid the body of oxygen based toxins known as free radicals thought to create breakdown in muscle and tissue. At least one national governing body indicates we should consume five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

For the New Year consider increasing your intake of fish, fruits and vegetables. Your brain deserves it!

Brain Fitness Roadmap – Past, Present and Future

As we enter a new year, I like to reflect on the past year and what that means for the one ahead. It’s been five years that I have been developing the brain fitness market, and have seen a lot of changes – both positive and negative. When I first started, there was minimal interest in the concept of exercising your brain. In the last two years however, there has been an explosion in interest from adults of all ages and media coverage and I have been interviewed by leading publications such as the Wall Street Journal, NY Times, Women’s Health.

This has been great news for both the industry and the general public. We are witnessing a shift in society, and a general awareness about the importance of brain fitness. We saw a similar shift in the 1980s with the physical fitness movement. Researchers and the medical profession pushed the positive health benefits of physical activity, but it took a while for society to fully integrate physical exercise into daily life. Thanks to recent scientific research we now know that the brain is malleable and we can build brain connections at any age. Just ten years ago, this was not thought possible.

Nintendo has also helped open up the brain game market with their extremely successful Brain Age game. This has, of course, created numerous copycats and flooded the consumer market with one-off and weak products. Yet, I am thankful to Nintendo as they were able to bring awareness of brain games to the general public. They had seen the success of their game in Japan and realized there was an aging population worldwide. In addition, they had the resources to market Brain Age and tap into this underserved area. Many people in the scientific and brain fitness community scoff at their game, finding it scientifically weak and a disservice to the consumer. I would have to agree that their product is scientifically weak and I have many of my own complaints. However, Nintendo has hit on something that I understand. They implemented the concepts of “engagement” and “fun factor” and it is one of the main reasons for their success.

So, what does this mean for 2008 and the next five years? There are those who say that the brain fitness market is becoming saturated and is in its later stages. I have seen the market develop up until now, and couldn’t disagree more. Brain fitness is still in its infancy and will see real growth in the next five years. Awareness about brain fitness has now passed the tipping point but we are still falling short in the area of “adoption” into our daily lives. The companies that truly understand what individuals are looking for will be rewarded with enduring customer loyalty. For us at Fit Brains, we believe the “adoption” of brain fitness will be answered through “relevancy”, “motivation” and a “fun factor”. Yes, it is possible to have fun and be scientific too – it just hasn’t been done! Some doctors and people might argue this, but it’s the key to full integration into daily life. People don’t stick with things they don’t enjoy, especially things like long-term health goals that are often difficult to maintain. If we can make an important aspect of a daily routine more accessible and engaging, people will be more likely to do them.

The team here at Fit Brains is extremely excited about 2008! We plan to have our first launch very shortly. Fit Brains will provide a brain games, tools and features that is fun and engaging. We hope people of all ages adopt a brain fitness routine so that we can keep our most important asset strong and healthy!

Brain Health Lifestyle #3 – Socialization

I have proposed a five factor brain health lifestyle to include (1) Mental Stimulation (e.g. brain games), (2) Physical Activity, (3) Socialization, (4) Nutrition, and (5) Spirituality. For this blog I want to provide some information on the power of socialization.

Research teaches us that social isolation and segregation, particularly in the later years of life is related to increased risk of dementia. Dementia is a general clinical term that describes a decline in general intelligence, loss of memory, language or visuospatial deficit, change in personality, and decline in functional ability. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the number one cause of dementia in the United States.

Other research indicates passivity in the forties is related to increased risk of dementia in later life. There is a relatively strong message to remain integrated and involved in something meaningful across your entire lifespan. It is also important to be engaged with other people and to develop strong relationships. A study this year taught us that loneliness actually increases the risk of dementia. It is not simply being with others, one needs to feel included and related to the group.

It is never too late to develop a personal inventory of your social network and relationships. Assess your life and determine if you are spending time doing the things that inspire you, more importantly that might inspire others. Socialization and all that is discussed in this blog is a brain health issue and one that should be taken seriously.

Dr. Nussbaum